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Philosophical Atheism


A. General Definition: The absence of or denial of belief in the existence of a god or gods. The term atheism stems from the Greek prefix a-, meaning "without," and the Greek word theos, meaning "god" or "deity." Since its inception the term atheism has been variously and vaguely employed, often as an epithet of abuse or accusation against any belief system which differed from the popular orthodoxy of a specific culture or nation. Although the term has no one strict philosophical meaning, it may be generally and primarily defined as the rejection of belief in god (s). As a reaction to religious belief, atheism does not imply a necessary connection to other philosophical positions, although it is often associated with materialism, communism, rationalism, naturalism, evolutionism, existentialism, pantheism, and political anarchism. In Western society and history the term atheism has typically been used more narrowly to refer to the rejection of Judeo-Christian theism.

B. Versions

1. Evidential atheism: The philosophical rejection of theism based on epistemological (theory of knowledge), logical (rational status of arguments pro and con), and evidential (types and degrees of evidence) grounds. This specific type of philosophy of religion stems from at least the time of Gaunilo up to Kant, and continues to hold center stage in Anglo-American discussion. This overall orientation is succinctly summarized in Bertrand Russellís (1872-1970) account of what he would say to God if the two were ever to meet and God were to ask him why he had not been a believer: " Iíd say, ĎNot enough evidence God! Not enough evidence!í" Two distinct variants of evidential atheism should be precisely distinguished.

1A. Negative evidential atheism: Also called weak atheism, this type of evidential atheism asserts an absence or lack of belief in the theistic hypothesis. This negative thesis states that traditional arguments for theism provide insufficient evidence to rationally or logically establish their conclusion. Therefore, it does not explicitly deny Godís existence or attempt to prove Godís nonexistence. Negative evidential atheism has often gone hand in hand with the burden-of-proof principle.

1B. Positive evidential atheism: Also called strong atheism, this type of evidential atheism explicitly denies the theistic hypothesis on the basis of positive arguments and evidence (for example, the argument from the existence of evil) intended to establish the nonexistence of god. In contrast to the negative form of opposition, this positive assault bears the logical burden of proof because it advances positive evidence for Godís nonexistence.

2. Atheism of Suspicion: This type of atheism proceeds on the argued conclusion that the evidential case for theism is fatally flawed and false. Based on this rejection, it suspects that a state of false consciousness is at work in theism. Accordingly, the atheism of suspicion seeks to expose the mechanisms of this false consciousness by means of an explanatory account of the actual, natural origin of religion. Philosophical proponents of genetic or genealogical theories of the real roots of religious consciousness include Hume, Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre. Freud is the most notable nonphilosophical proponent of this approach to theism. If a plausible theory of the natural origin of religion can be furnished it would count as positive evidence against the entire theistic belief system. As such, the atheism of suspicion is a much more radical critique than evidential atheism insofar as it systematically constructs a comprehensive, genetic theory of theism in its entirety.